Do E-Collars Hurt Dogs? 6 Myths about E-Collars and Static Correction1 comment
Why Static Correct is Needed for Some Dogs
Many dog owners believe that training tools like e-collars and electric dog fences are cruel inventions, used only with fear-based training methods with the sole intention of causing harm to a dog.
Petco even started a #stoptheshock campaign, putting a spotlight on e-collars, describing them as “painful” and linking them to “punishment-based” training. The store announced that they are pulling all human-operated “shock collars” from their shelves and focusing only on “positive training.”
The campaign anthropomorphizes dogs, putting human feeling and emotions to their behaviors, misleads pet owners about what the “positive” in Positive Reinforcement means, and describes shock collars to cause “anxiety,” “fear,” and “stress” in dogs. But this is only a partial view of the big picture.
If you have a dog with a high prey drive that hasn’t taken to these training methods, you’re likely left feeling frustrated by the time, effort, and money you’ve spent without a productive outcome and unsure of how to best move forward.
Jen Sotolongo, author of the Essential Guide for Hiking with Dogs, struggled to train her sweet, yet unmanageable Spanish hunting breed mix, Laila. Fiercely independent, Laila would bolt when off leash, chase wildlife and farm animals, and get agitated any time a human would glance in her direction.
"I spent hours working with her using positive reinforcement training methods. We’d practice recall on a long line in various locations. We’d walk up and down the same street over and over to mitigate her pulling. I’d drop treats down to her while she lay on her mat any time a person walked by while we were eating at a restaurant. I worked with different trainers to try and tame the beast."
Despite these best efforts, Laila wasn’t making any progress. In a moment of desperation, Jen vented on social media about her struggles and was surprised to see trusted friends, whom she knew love their dogs more than anything, recommending e-collars. Through research and consultation with a professional dog trainer, Jen found that her assumptions about e-collars were riddled with myths and misconceptions. Soon, she came to learn that when used correctly, these collars can be an incredibly effective communication tool.
Types of Electronic Dog Collars and Fences
There are a range of products that loosely fall into the category of an e-collar or electric fence. Here’s a short overview of these options.
- Shock Collar - These 1970s era products pre-date e-collars and would emit small electrical currents to modify dogs’ behavior. Advances in technology have made these products obsolete in favor of e-collars.
- E-collars - A battery-operated collar that comes with a wireless remote control that utilizes TENS technology to deliver stimulation to a dog.
- Invisible Electric Fences: Underground systems with a buried wire fence that will deliver stimulation to the dog’s collar when it leaves the invisible fence boundary.
- GPS Fences: These systems operate similarly to an in-ground fence, but instead of burying a wire, fence boundaries are created using an app. A variety of signals, including tones, vibrations, and optional static correction are available.
Six Common Misconceptions about Static Corrections
To best understand how e-collars and fences work, here are six of the top false assumptions that you may read about these products, with facts to debunk these common myths.
1. “E-COLLARS HURT DOGS”
When it comes to the question, "Do e-collars hurt dogs?" it is essential to approach the topic with nuance and understanding. They can, just like a flat collar hurt a dog. Just like a human hand can hurt a dog. Just like the chef’s knife you use on a daily basis can be a murder weapon, an e-collar can hurt a dog when used in the wrong hands. When used correctly, an e- collar will not hurt your dog. Responsible, positive e-collar training first teaches them the skill (i.e. “sit”), then layers on the e-collar once they understand what is being asked.
Going through the motions ensures that dogs are not punished, nor harmed when they reach the fence barrier. Rather, they are taught that the sound or stimulation means that they get to return to their human for a treat and praise. Conditioning a dog to an e-collar takes time and dedication. The goal is to create a positive association with the e-collar with treats and positive reinforcement on a low stimulation.
Many assume that e-collars, or any collar that offers stimulation, are used only to correct a dog when they do something “bad.” By layering it over known commands, the dog learns that their decisions may result in a low level correction, much like a tap on the shoulder to get one’s attention. You want your dog to understand that the stimulation is coming from you, the handler.
Though not an e-collar, SpotOn GPS Fence also includes an optional static correction that is the same sensation as an e-collar. It’s very important to train your dog and SpotOn provides several different training plans and detailed videos about how to properly introduce and use the collar on dogs.
2. “E-COLLARS ARE LAZY”
Because they require the additional step of layering the collar after first teaching obedience commands, this argument holds no weight. Yes, for those who slap an e-collar on a dog to correct misbehavior, this is a lazy approach to training.
E-collars are extremely effective communication tools and because of that are more efficient. More efficient doesn’t mean lazy. Think about the fact that you probably drive every day instead of walk or bike. It’s because it’s more efficient. Lazy is not training your dog at all. The SpotOn training plans suggest taking several weeks to condition your dog to the collar, encouraging owners to go at their dogs’ pace.
3. “AVERSION = ABUSE”
We humans experience aversive tools every single day. Fire alarms are aversive. The ding from your car when you wait too long to put your seatbelt on is aversive. Alarm clocks are aversive. In aversive therapy treatments, the idea is for the patient to associate something unpleasant with an unwanted behavior. As an example, someone trying to quit smoking may snap a rubber band worn around the wrist whenever they reach for their cigarettes.
High quality e-collars have a stimulation range that goes from 0-100. Once you find your dog’s working level, usually something under 10, a stimulation most humans cannot feel, it acts more like a pager. The correction comes when the handler needs the dog to take their focus off the distraction (squirrel, other dog, person, etc.) and bring their attention back to the handler or away from the thing they could harm or that could harm them.
It's important to note that e-collars, when used at appropriate settings and with professional training, are not a form of abuse. They are tools intended for safe, effective communication and training when other cues might not suffice. Proper use of an e-collar should always be aimed at guiding behavior positively without causing pain or fear, much like using a gentle nudge to refocus someone's attention.
4. “E-COLLARS ARE SHOCK COLLARS”
The myth that e-collars shock dogs often arises due to a common misunderstanding of what modern e-collars are designed to do. Modern, high quality e-collars use TENS technology to deliver stimulation to a dog. Physical therapists use TENS on patients to reduce pain and muscle spasms associated with various injuries and conditions, including arthritis, endometriosis, and sports injuries. TENS stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and alleviates pain through the delivery of a mild electrical current.
Truth be told, there are low quality e-collars on the market that are sold at a very low cost. These likely don't use the same technology and risk causing pain to your dog.
5. “THE COLLAR WILL SHOCK MY DOG FOR RETURNING HOME”
While this was true with early e-collars decades ago, this is an outdated myth that is no longer true. With SpotOn, its True Location™ GPS technology actually knows the direction that your dog is running, and its corrections system is disabled when your dog is returning to the safe zone, so your dog will not be corrected.
6. “IT WILL RUIN MY RELATIONSHIP WITH MY DOG”
For Jen, the opposite was true: using an e-collar helped her establish a more enjoyable relationship with Laila, and start exploring all of the activities and outdoor adventuring that she loved doing with her dog, without worry. Many dog owners turn to e-collars as a last resort, only after they have exhausted all other methods of training. The relationship between a frustrated dog and owner is already strained. When the training methods you’ve been trying aren’t working and you can’t stand your dog, or you can’t leave the house with them, and the quality of life for both you and your dog are suffering, then continuing to try the same thing won’t help.
Think of the e-collar as a translator. Remember, dogs don’t speak English and humans don’t speak dog. We learn some words and postures in the other’s language, but neither of us is fluent. The e-collar helps facilitate what the human is trying to say in a way the dog can understand.
The assumption is that e-collars are used only as negative reinforcement, but when used as part of a balanced training program, you’ll see that positive reinforcement is a huge component of the training.
"I have been using the e-collar on my dog For nearly a year, under the guidance of a trainer, and in that time I’ve learned that the myths I once believed about e-collars simply aren't true. I've seen the freedom that comes with the tool and know that I can keep my dog and others safe thanks to proper training."
SpotOn Fence: The #1 Alternative to E-Collars
E-collars can be a game-changing communication tool to help hard-to-contain dog breeds acclimate to virtual fence boundaries quicker and more effectively; however, training is essential.
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Article written with support from Jen Sotolongo
Jen is the author of the Essential Guide for Hiking with Dogs & blogs at Long Haul Trekkers, a leading resource for adventure dogs and their humans. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, and dog mom, of course. She loves trail running, hiking, and camping in the mountains. She is born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and lives in Bend, OR with her rescued cattle dog mix, Sitka.